by Ucheoma Onwutuebe
Today is your naming ceremony and the rice would not go round for all the guests who have come in droves. Your father is tense, scratching his sweaty underarms as he wipes more seats for more guests. Your tired mother sits in a quiet corner, cradling you in a room redolent with breast milk. The visitors tug at your pink cheeks and coo at you, feigning their disappointment at the insufficient supply of food and drinks. The gayest person at your event is your paternal grandmother. She is surprisingly kind to your mother today. They have been at loggerheads long before you made it to the scene, the bone of contention being your late arrival. But here you are now and grandma is finally pacified.
I do not know how the lot fell upon you to come here, Nigeria of all countries, but I believe Providence never hands us plights more than we can handle. You have been born in a period when the nation is in the cusp of uncertainty. I would be telling a grave lie if I say to you that all things shall be bright and beautiful, but I assure you that all things shall be very interesting.
Like the first night you would run a high temperature that would eventually lead to convulsion. There would be no 911 to call, no emergency ambulance halting at your doorsteps. Your inexperienced mother would wail, tear her hair and grab her chest. Your father would stand aloof and finally question his paternity, wondering if this convulsing child is truly seed of his loins or a creature from the underworld. What shall save you that night would be the wisdom of Mama Bisola, your old neighbour, who would throw a pinch of salt into the tiny cave of your mouth, ebbing the tide of your troubled frame.
Your first ride to school in the public bus would hold your interest as well, and on that bus you would notice that everyone is on edge. Like the big bottomed woman who would quack you as she tries to settle down, Dress for me my friend… shift small. You would be awed with the number of foul mouthed people aiming their frustrations at you- little you, a total stranger. But with time you shall build an internal shock absorber to steer those angry words away from your heart.
At 7, your first time shopping alone in the market, you would be fleeced without love or hate by eager market women. They would perceive from a mile that you have not learned the act of haggling. But your mother would be chagrined. She would chase you back with a broom to go bring back her money or risk sleeping outside.
In the homefront, your father would be renowned for not having enough money but still he would drink away his spoils at the bar across the street. Your mother is your saving grace, offering you pittance every now and then and for this cause you cannot afford to defy her. At the slightest disagreement, she would remind you of how she carried you in her womb for 9 complete months; how she risked her life and mounted okada for every antenatal appointment she had with her doctor just to bring you to earth.
At 16, your childhood crush would be married off to a man four times her age, to ease the financial burden of her family of 13.
It is not the end of the world if you write JAMB more than once. Keep trying and let no one deceive you into thinking education does not matter. Education may not be obtained in a school but go to school to fulfil all righteousness and to obtain a certificate. You hold sole responsibility for the knowledge you acquire, the things you would teach yourself.
Child, you shall grow among a people stricken with complacency and sympathy fatigue. At the market place you would watch tyres eagerly thrown on the heads of criminals and you would watch them go up in flames for petty thievery. Here is a place where the citizens and government are in a love-hate relationship; a place where everyone runs their own autonomous community, providing their own basic amenities.
Naivety would be your biggest affliction here. You shall realise soon enough that you are on your own. You shall carry your own cross even if your feet wobble and just because you ran miles for people does not mean they would get up their lazy chair for you. This is not a place for people who fall in love too easily, who believe too readily, who lend to eagerly.
Do not fall for those who peddle the quickie-ways out of hard situations. Your hope would lie on your diligence, for no matter how dreary things get, how the traffic jams refuse to ease up, how long power goes out, life is always kind to the diligent.
You would do well to be streetwise. You would wade through your ford with tact and know when to be defiant, when to spew hot air and threaten to bring your imaginary uncle who is the Commissioner for police at the scene of every trouble; you would know when to be a supplicant and call the secretaries “mummy”; when to “dash” gatemen money for recharge card.
And above all, stay hopeful and sane and remember that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
Child, you have arrived on this soil and since there is nothing we can do about it, welcome to Nigeria.